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Obama Holds Press Conference After Pentagon Meeting On ISIS Strategy



AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Obama spoke to the press this afternoon at the Pentagon just ahead of his two-week summer break in Martha’s Vineyard. NPR’s Scott Detrow was listening in, and he joins us now. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So the president was at the Pentagon today to talk with his advisers about the Islamic State. And obviously this summer we’ve seen a string of high-profile terror attacks that in some cases have been linked back to the group. What did President Obama have to say about the status of that fight?

DETROW: Well, the president said we’re making progress, and he went into kind of a laundry list of military engagements with ISIS and talked about how much ground ISIS has lost within Syria and Iraq. The president said there have been thousands of air attacks against the group. And he did acknowledge, though, that as that’s happened, ISIS has been on the offense as well throughout the Middle East, throughout Europe. President Obama spoke about ISIS with its other acronym, ISIL.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So we’ve seen terrible bombings in Iraq and in Jordan and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan, attacks on an Istanbul airport, a restaurant in Bangladesh, Bastille Day celebrations in a church in France and a music festival in Germany.

DETROW: You know, that’s a really long list of attacks, and that’s the problem here. The president acknowledged that these attacks are very hard to stop. And it’s hard to feel like a lot of progress is being made when so many people all around the world are so on edge.

CORNISH: Now, the president also took questions about this $400 million payment to Iran. It’s part of a legal settlement with that country. It surfaced in news reports this week, been talked about on the campaign trail. What did he have to say?

DETROW: That’s right – the suggestion there that this was some kind of form of ransom because some American hostages in Iran were released around the same time. President Obama was very defensive about this, and you could hear that in the tone of his voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: We announced these payments in January many months ago. There wasn’t a secret.

DETROW: The president said that the only news here is that it was a cash payment of $400 million. And he said the reason for that is because the United States just doesn’t have a banking relationship with Iran right now. They couldn’t wire the money.

CORNISH: Now another issue people have been anxious about – potential new cases of Zika appearing in the U.S. Did the president touch on that issue?

DETROW: He did. There’s one neighborhood in Miami where – been about 15 cases so far. President Obama said this was predicting – predicted and predictable. He said health officials are working on this, and then he reiterated not to be worried about a large-scale outbreak like we’ve seen in Brazil or Puerto Rico. He says it’s just different here.

But the president did chide Congress for not funding Zika stuff more. He – Congress left for its summer break without passing a bill, and President Obama urged people to call their local representative and voice their complaints about that.

CORNISH: Now, the Obama family is headed to Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday, and somehow people eked some news out of that as well (laughter). What happened?

DETROW: They did. You know, one thing about being president is that every aspect of your summer vacation is newsy (ph). And Sasha Obama has a summer job, and that was in the news. You know, Malia Obama had a high-profile internship with HBO a couple of summers ago. Sasha’s job – a little more like the job you and I probably had in the summer. She’s working at the takeout window of a seafood joint called Nancy’s. The thing with that, though, is that unlike most people’s summer job, there’s about a half dozen Secret Service agents lurking there (laughter) as well as she’s taking orders.

CORNISH: Very secure clam strips on the way…

DETROW: That’s right (laughter).

CORNISH: …At Nancy’s. Scott Detrow, thanks so much for talking with us.

DETROW: Thank you.

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